Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Drinking in Japan is an interesting phenomenon, but this time it was also painful. Drinking was arranged to start at 7:30; as usual I was late (my version of punctuality, 0-2 minutes late is okay, is 2 minutes behind the Japanese version, so I constantly find myself turning up to events 2 minutes late, and everyone is staring at me). When I arrived I was confronted with another envelope, from which I drew the number 3 with alcohol-coated fingers (we were back in the dining room), and so was directed to table 3. Are we noticing a theme about seating arrangements here? I was fortunate to get a table with Masae (I think that's her name) who is in my Convex Analysis class; and Ryugenji, who was in my room. So there were two people at the table who know how to talk to foreigners (i.e. loud and slowly, using dumb words). We had to wait half an hour for the drinking to commence, and everyone always seemed to know without asking exactly why - "oh, we're waiting on so-and-so Teacher" - "oh, the food" - etc. Eventually we started and, horror of horrors, our first task was to stand up, one by one, and announce ourselves and any details about ourselves to the whole room of 110 people. We did it table by table, and when my table came and we were looking at each other waiting to see who would stand up first, people at other tables started saying my name ... anyway, with that out of the way, we could drink properly, which I did, quickly.

It never ceases to amaze me how Japanese people regularly take their supposed conformity, shyness and unwillingness to be publicly singled out, and also their formalism, and crap on it from a great height. For example, why do these people who refuse to be singled out insist on everyone standing up to talk about themselves? And why did Gosuke and Takuma insist on dragging me around to talk to every teacher? And why did I end up doing impressions of myself whacking Takuma from three feet away with an engorged penis, while his mates watched and laughed (this relates to the bath story)? This isn't the behaviour of shy and formalistic 21 year olds. Also, if everyone is so afraid of standing out, why is it that at midnight one of the camp seniors (a third year in my room) started talking about his dreams and goals in front of 12 people? He slowly became more animated, and as he did so the others in the room stopped to listen. He then gave a full, improvised speech to 12 people (including his teacher!) about why he wants to become a teacher, what he thought of Professor Miwa’s opinions, his study and lifestyle philosophy, and why education is important. Everyone listened raptly, and he finished it by assuming the most reverent posture he could (the Shinto bowing posture), saying “I will try harder to achieve my goals, and so should you” and bowing several times. Everyone else applauded him, and his teacher said “that was a good speech”. This is hardly the behaviour one expects of shy and retiring people!

Furthermore, the drinking was in 2 "stages" (their words, not mine); after the official drinking hall closed at 10:00 we all adjourned to our dorms, which were in their own separate building, and gathered in the larger rooms. We again waited for about 20 or 30 minutes while people gathered in the rooms (already drunk) and mysterious people ran around throwing alcohol at us. In my room for example we had 12 kids, and: 2 litres of plum wine, 750 ml of bad red wine, a 6 pack of beer, 3 cans of dark beer, 3 separate cans of normal beer, 6 cans of chu-hai (see previous posts) and some kind of odious crisps whose smell lingered on my fingers for 2 days. that's a lot of booze when you consider that almost everyone in the room weighed less than 60 kgs, and I wasn't planning on drinking much (it might also explain why some people gave speeches). It was this second stage which ended at 5:30 am, though I kicked everyone out at 1am and went to sleep.


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